Part 3. Performance in Games
Test results: performance comparison
We used the following test applications:
If you have a decent understanding of 3D graphics, you may draw your own conclusions for the diagrams below. However, if you are interested in our comments on test results, you may read them after each test. Anything that is important to beginners and those who are new to the world of video cards will be explained in detail in the comments.
First of all, you should look through our reference materials on modern graphics cards and their GPUs. Be sure to note the operating frequencies, support for modern technologies (shaders), as well as the pipeline architecture. You should understand that the 8800 family of accelerators completely did away with the notion of a pipeline. These cards instead have streaming processors, which process shaders in a game. Texture units process pixels (applying textures, filtering) by themselves. In other words, the processes are fully divided. Data is written into a memory buffer, as always, only after texture operations are completed. The old procedure used in older video cards was to take a triangle, calculate it with shader commands, apply texture(s), filter it, and send it along; this procedure is not used anymore. It's up to a driver and a thread processor to distribute tasks between the stream processors. The same goes for texture units. The situation is similar with with the R600 and RV6xx families.
If you have just begun realizing how large the selection to choose a video card is, don't worry, our 3D Graphics section offers articles about 3D basics (you will still have to understand them - when you run a game and open its options, you'll see such notions as textures, lighting, etc) as well as reviews of new products. There are just two companies that manufacture graphics processors: ATI (the graphics department of AMD) and NVIDIA. So most of the information is divided into these two sections. We also publish monthly 3Digests that sum up all comparisons of graphics cards for various price segments.
All of our tests are currently run on Windows XP. This is because it is currently the main OS for PC gaming. Later on we'll examine RightMark DX10 on Windows Vista. To be frank, the problem with Vista right now is that it is still buggy. But since it is the only operating system to support DirectX 10, sooner or later we will have to turn to it. These results, however, will be published in a different article. We will start using DX10 benchmarks hopefully sometime in August. Right now, though, we are still waiting for more stable drivers, anything less would skew performance results.
FarCry, Research (No HDR)
In Far Cry, only the 2600 PRO is somewhat successful in its performance. This especially applies to Radeon 2600 PRO products from Sapphire and HIS which come manufacturer overclocked. The performance of the other video cards can be summed up as nothing short of a fiasco. The small amount of texture units that these video cards come with has a catastrophic effect on performance. However, this is an old game, and so the the load on the shaders does not prevail here.
FarCry, Research (HDR)
With High Dynamic Range enabled the situation turns out better. This is because the additional load created by high dynamic range causes the performance of competing cards to drop significantly. However, the small amount of texture units stills plays a negative role in modes with anti-aliasing enabled.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. has been just recently added to our gaming lineup. Because it was such as new addition, and rather last minute, we were only able to benchmark the main competitors of the 2400-2600 families. As in Far Cry, only the overclocked 2600 PRO cards (products from HIS and Sapphire) perform well. The other cards have low performance.
The trend we have been seeing repeats yet again, and only the overclocked 2600 PRO performs at good levels.
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory (No HDR)
This benchmark has a large load of shaders, and thus it favors the 2600 family.
Situations like this show the true potential of these cards: the more shader intensive a game is, the larger the advantage of the HD 2600 family turns out to be. The 2400XT, however, demonstrates no worse results and is outperformed by the GeForce 8500 by a small margin. Keep in mind that the Radeon 2400XT is much cheaper than the GeForce 8500.
Splinter Cell Chaos Theory (HDR)
Again, we see the trend continue.
Call Of Juarez
This game favors only the 2600 PRO cards. Strange as it may seem, the 2600 XT is actually outperformed in some instances.
Company Of Heroes
Have a look at the huge advantage the new AMD family! What is it? Why this abrupt change in the performance position of the cards? We may think of optimizations, quality loss could be a factor of course. But a cursory examination reveals no such losses. This issue will be given more attention in our 3Digest article. As for now, we can only establish a fact that all new graphics cards from AMD demonstrate a brilliant victory in this game. In addition, it's a DX9 version of the game!
We'll add the DX10 version (patch) to our test procedure in a month.
Serious Sam II (No HDR)
This game also requires high shader performance and a powerful texture unit, which is a weakness of the 2600 family. For this reason, only the 2600 PRO remains the performance leader.
Serious Sam II (HDR)
3DMark06: SHADER 2.0 MARKS
3DMark06: SHADER 3.0 MARKS
Synthetic tests with high load on shaders again demonstrate a large advantage for the HD 2600 family, save for the SM2.0 test in 3DMark06. On the whole, we have another proof that the more shader intensive games are, the more advantage that AMD cards get from it.
The synthetic test results show that the new unified architecture from AMD is very powerful and designed for complex computing. In addition, the new architecture also scales performance quite well. The entry-level solutions reviewed today are quite competitive and the RADEON HD 2600 and HD 2400 XT/PRO show some very good results in synthetic tests. But the situation is not that simple in real games. Modern games still require fast texture fetches, a high fillrate and a large memory bandwidth.
The ATI RADEON HD 2400 XT (RV610) is a very cheap solution for consumers who need just a graphics card. Cards of this type, which are usually low performing entry-level products, have been manufactured in the past and are still being manufactured today. We do, however, think that in a few years this specific class will be wiped out by integrated graphics, which are slowly but surely growing in power. Nevertheless, for a cheap and quick video card, discrete is the best way to current go. The Radeon 2400 also has an added bonus, it supports DX10. But whether DirectX 10 games will be able to be run at decent performance levels is another question. There is, however, another upside as this card supports Universal Video Decoder, meaning that it can decode HD video and turn a computer into a home theater PC.
Why did engineers choose a narrow bus and very fast memory instead of a wider bus and less expensive memory for these cards? The answer is on the surface: PCB costs. The PCB cost play a very important role for such budget cards. The 64-bit layout is certainly much cheaper than the 128-bit one, and memory tends to drop in price, while the PCB costs are almost always constant.
The ATI RADEON HD 2600 PRO (RV630) is a very good modern solution for the money. At the moment, it directly competes with the GeForce 8500 GT. The tests show that this product has great potential in applications with a high load on shaders. In the future, such applications will grow in numbers. The current defeats the card has can also be straightened out with future driver updates. We already have information that a newer version (beta) of the driver significantly improves performance. For a number of reasons we were forced to use CATALYST 7.6, which formally supports the new products, but does not have enough optimizations made enhance performance. Along with what we have already said, support for UVD and HD Video is also included with these cards.
Regarding the cards from HIS and Sapphire based on the 2600 PRO GPU, they perform well above their competition and almost always give a large performance advantage. From what we have seen, they are strong products. The card from HIS with its well-known cooler is especially good, primarily because it's a miracle for overclockers. By the way, the new version of RivaTuner already supports these cards. And AMD drivers have the ATI OverDrive tab available in the settings for these cards, meaning they can be overclocked. The product from TUL is just a copy of the reference card with stock frequencies. All above-mentioned advantages of the 2600 PRO apply to this card as well, but it's strange that the HIS product does not support CrossFire with bridges, only through the bus.
The ATI RADEON HD 2600 XT (RV630) is a dark horse, because the card is not even available to AMD partners so far, probably due to its high cost. However, if you read this review much later, this may not be true anymore. Strange as it may seem, the 2600 XT generally performs worse than the 2600 PRO. This is because we compare it with the 8600 GT (because of its price), and the new card ends up with more defeats than victories in this comparison. But as we have already pointed out above, the new version of drivers is coming, and the situation may be improved.
And now for the general conclusion. All of these products seem to support DX10 (sometimes formally), just like the GeForce 8500-8600. We all should understand, however, that if we install a DX10 game, enable all options (set the quality to maximum), even the RADEON HD 2600 XT or the GeForce 8600 GTS will be very slow at 1024x768. Performance would probably be so terrible that the game might not even be playable. Keeping this in mind, you'll have to sacrifice some quality if you want to play DirectX 10 video games.
It is also important to note that tests were run only on Windows XP (the most popular OS) with DX9 applications. Our next article with these cards will be devoted to the new version of RightMark DX10, so all tests will be run on Windows Vista. We will learn how all DX10 cards fare in synthetic tests, effectively determining their potential. Then we will publish an updated article on video decoding with the 2600 PRO. Near the end this summer, we will introduce new Vista tests in our monthly 3Digest articles.
And the last thing. The tests show well that the new cards are heavily outperformed by previous solutions from ATI, the X1xxx family (DX9), even though they fare on par with competing cards from NVIDIA. This is a strange situation: if you want to run DX10 games in the future, you have to sacrifice performance in modern DX9 games. It's very confusing, to tell the truth, and it is hard to make a clear choice. Take, for example, the X1950 PRO. Looking at its performance, it is much faster than the HD 2600 XT in DX9 games, and their prices are about equal to each other. This is something that will have to be taken into great consideration when purchasing any of these cards. DirectX 10 games won't be able to perform very well on these current cards, but at least you will have the ability to run them later on if you purchase an entry-level or mid-range card from ATI's 2xxx series. However, would you rather prefer playing DirectX 9 games at higher frame rates and stick with a mid-range card from the previous generation? The answers to these questions rely entirely on you and your preferences.
The following cards get the Original Design award (July):
Sapphire RADEON HD 2600 PRO 256MB GDDR3 PCI-E
HIS RADEON 2600 PRO (RV630) IceQ III Turbo 256MB GDDR2 PCI-E
We'd like to thank
and Nikolay Radovsky
and Ilya Ostrovsky
and Tatiana Dromashko
and Constantine Martynenko
for the provided graphics cards
Andrey Vorobiev (firstname.lastname@example.org)
July 30, 2007
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